FEBRUARY 18 — I believe the story in South China Morning Post (SCMP) on February 15, 2020 and the letter from Kua Kia Soong have been misinformed regarding the Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) and Penang South Islands (PSI) projects.
They are misinformed by a group called Penang Forum, consisting of non-governmental organisation (NGO) members and Opposition political leaders from parties such as PAS.
Not all NGOs are against the ruling government but all Opposition leaders are, by the virtue of their political ambition. However, when an NGO has repeatedly displayed anti-government diatribe, it becomes evident that there is something more beneath the surface.
Penang Forum has evolved over the years from a constructive NGO to an Opposition-affiliated — if not infiltrated — entity. This is most obvious from their protests against almost all of the state-initiated projects in Penang.
While the Penang government, led by Pakatan Harapan coalition, is leading the state into a world-class competitive and high-income city, these NGOs seem to be trying their best to turn Penang into Kelantan.
Apparently, some of these NGOs have lost their eligibility to receive grants from international bodies when Penang in particular and Malaysia in general have emerged out of the ‘Third World’ category. Is that a motivation for those NGOs to see Penang remain in a ‘Third World’ state?
The PTMP and PSI have become these NGOs’ main complaints against the Penang government, so much so that they organised a forum with a string of speakers attacking these initiatives. But, what is wrong with PTMP and PSI?
The NGOs alleged that these projects lack expertise, but what they really wanted was to push for their own view to be regarded as “expertise”.
I once sat in a focus-group session with three transport experts presenting three different proposals to address Penang’s traffic woes. One argued for on-ground tram, one for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), and another one for Light Rail Transit (LRT). It is therefore wrong for those NGOs to talk as if there is only one expertise view on the matter.
Furthermore, the PTMP’s LRT and PSI have been vouched for respectively by Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor and professor of transportation engineering, Ahmad Farhan Mohd Sadullah and eminent economist such as the chairman of Khazanah Research Institute, Dr Nungsari A. Radhi.
Ahmad Farhan has remarked that the LRT “is imperative and urgently needed for Penang,” while Dr Nungsari has stated that the PSI “is a perfectly rational economic project for a place like Penang.”
These are prominent and experienced experts whom those NGOs, SCMP, and Kua Kia Soong have ignored.
The NGOs have also alleged that the PTMP and PSI are projects that were adopted by state government to benefit developers. This is wrong.
Those projects went through open tender in the form of request-for-proposal, a method used by the World Bank and United Nations. The present PTMP was the result of an evaluation over six different proposals by KPMG and hundreds of stakeholder engagement sessions.
In fact, the increase of the estimated cost for PTMP from RM27 billion to RM46 billion came from those stakeholder engagement sessions that requested transport infrastructures such as LRT, monorail, and longer BRT to be built on the mainland.
By wanting to smear these projects, those NGOs highlight only the cost increase but hide the rationale behind the increment. That’s why the article in SCMP and by Kua Kia Soong make no mention of this — misinformed by the NGOs.
I used to think that such smear campaign was only carried out by the current Opposition political parties, until I came across Penang Forum.
The open tender method did not end with the PTMP. The PSI is currently going through a master design competition involving various globally renowned planners and architects working hand-in-hand with local firms to provide the best proposal that will benefit Penang in the long-run.
So, what is wrong with PTMP and PSI?
They are definitely not perfect plans, there will be impact, and mitigation measures will need to be in place to address those.
Nevertheless, they are game-changer infrastructures that will path Penang’s future. And Penang Forum and Opposition politicians will continue to collaborate to do their best to prevent that from happening.
* Joshua Woo is a former councillor with the Seberang Perai Council.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.